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Bacon's 10 and 32: Doing as much for unity in death as in life

Colchester — If a manual existed with the archetype of a high school athlete, the photo attached would be of Sam Blumberger, a senior at Bacon Academy, straight from central casting: Tall, strong, dapper, indestructible.

And so there was Blumberger in his lacrosse gear earlier this week, sweaty from the sun and warmth of the day, still huffing and puffing after a few skill development drills. Blumberger paused momentarily to chat about the numbers 10 and 32.

Tears began to roll down his cheeks.

A most unusual sight for this strapping young man still processing the deeper meaning of the numbers 10 and 32 to his neighborhood, lacrosse community, Bacon Academy and the whole town.

It was "10-32 Day" at Bacon on Thursday in homage and remembrance of No. 10 Jake Chapman and No. 32 Tyler Graham, a pair of alums who died in a car accident last October not far from the high school campus. They were two months into their college careers at Western Connecticut.

This celebration of life, as cathartic as it was inspiring, was awash in boys' and girls' lacrosse games vs. Ledyard; food trucks, a DJ and commemorative T-shirts in the parking lot; and mostly the appreciative faces of people who will spend the rest of their lives missing two of the best kids to walk Bacon's halls.

"Ten and 32 aren't just numbers," Blumberger said. "We're fighting for two kids that did a lot for a program, built character amongst the team, especially myself. I grew up with Tyler my whole life in my neighborhood. And he always brought Jake over. We're gonna keep doing it for them. It's the legacy they left. It's still very hard."

Not just for Blumberger. Brian Martin, Bacon's coach who led the program to now consecutive division titles, couldn't finish the story about telling Graham he made all-state once without his voice cracking. Martin still remembers the shapes and forms of the day he learned of the accident. He was apple-picking with his family. There are no words for this. But Martin found some.

"One of the hardest things for me as a coach is when the players (who have graduated) come back, they always line the fence and watch from the fence line in the same spot," Martin said. "And the hardest thing for me is knowing that they're never going to be there. And that's why we have their jerseys right there, 10 and 32, on that fence line. It's a memory that they'll always be there with us."

Martin wasn't kidding when he used the word "us." This is a town production. Indeed, Chapman and Graham have done more in death to unite their town than many have done while living.

"We'll continue to do this annually," Bacon athletic director Kevin Burke said. "We've started some things like the 10-32 signs on the fences donated by a couple of Colchester people that run Sign Professionals in Norwich. The girls' soccer team donated a red maple tree. We have two customized benches and a permanent, granite memorial installed at a later date.

"All of those things, all the funds that were collected, came through community-based fundraisers. Car washes. Inishmor (an Irish pub in town) ran a night where 10 percent of the proceeds went to the 10-32 day. Everyone — parents, coaches, students, graduates, staff, faculty — has been part of the whole planning and fundraising for this event."

Martin said that Chapman and Graham established an ethos for the program that runs like a current through the current seniors. This "rebuilding year" turned into a division title and another chance and at conference tournament championship.

"They've impacted this year's team in more ways than they'll ever know," Martin said. "Everybody kind of assumed that this was going to be a rebuilding year for us. But this team bonded and held it together. That's kudos to these guys and Jake and Tyler for setting that example.

"They devoted themselves to the sport and they devoted themselves to the team. They were just great kids to have around and they set examples that I want these guys to follow."

Turns out their impact extends beyond the sport. Lest we forget that high school kids often feel bulletproof. Chapman and Graham are everlasting, cautionary tales.

"When I'm driving, I've watched my speed more than anything over the course of months," Blumberger said. "They left my neighborhood and one minute later, the accident happened. I drive by it every day. I look at it. I say a prayer. Sometimes I stop by with my friends. We just look at it and continue to mourn. But we say positive."

Martin: "I drive by the accident scene every day. I work at NFA and it's how I get on Route 2. It's a constant reminder for me. I try to take what I can from it. Make sure I'm telling these guys to be careful and be safe.

"We always have Jake and Tyler in mind. We always have the reminder. We've got 10-32 on the back of our helmets. A lot of these guys have 10-32 on their on their sticks somewhere. They'll never, ever be forgotten."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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